Category Archives: Suicide Assessment and Intervention

Advances in Suicide Assessment and Treatment . . . just published in the Jubilee Edition of Psychology Aotearoa

Ocean View

Here’s the view from New Zealand.

The professional journal, Psychology Aotearoa is the flagship publication of the New Zealand Psychological Society. Just yesterday I received a copy of the Jubilee Edition of the journal. I’ve got a brief article on pp. 76-80, but the whole journal is an interesting glimpse of psychology, psychotherapy, and counseling at an international level. Here’s the pdf: 2018 November JSF New Zealand Pub

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The Case Against Zero Suicide

SunsetI’ve been trying for the past year to find a way to say this nicely. Finally, I discovered a recent article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that says what I want to say—at least in part—in a more professional tone. The articles is “Implications of Zero Suicide for Suicide Prevention Research.” Spoiler alert, the authors, Dominic Sisti, Ph.D. and Stephen Joffe, M.D. end their article with the following sentence: “To demonstrate which interventions are effective for reducing the suicide epidemic, it is necessary to let go of the belief that every suicide is preventable.” For their whole article, go to: https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2706416?utm_source=silverchair&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=article_alert-jama&utm_content=etoc&utm_term=102318

I have no doubt that my views are more extreme that Drs Sisti and Joffe. They’re medical researchers, publishing in JAMA. But I was heartened by their article; it helped me feel less alone in my dislike for Zero Suicide. They inspired me to share some of my thoughts and writing on the topic.

That said, now I’m sharing an unpublished rant about Zero Suicide. Keep in mind that I’m in favor of suicide intervention and suicide prevention. I’ve even started a trade book proposal on the subject. But I’m not in favor of Zero Suicide. Here’s why:

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Last month I entered into a Twitter debate about Zero Suicide. It started and ended like most Twitter debates. We disagreed in the beginning. Then, after several passionate exchanges, we disagreed even more in the end.

The issue was Zero Suicide. Zero Suicide is a national suicide prevention campaign, healthcare philosophy, and comfortable delusion. In case you haven’t yet heard of Zero Suicide, there’s a Zero Suicide Academy, Zero Suicide ToolKit, Zero Suicide Community, and several websites orienting people to the Zero Suicide Initiative. As a pragmatic mental health professional and sentient human being, I’m completely in favor of suicide prevention. I’m in favor of suicide prevention because many people who think about suicide are in great psychological pain, and if that pain can be addressed, then their suicide wishes often can abate. I also support much of what the various Zero Suicide Initiative involves. However, as a behavioral scientist and someone who has regular contact with other humans, I consider Zero Suicide to be a ridiculous philosophy and a DUMB goal.

Zero Suicide is a DUMB goal, principally because it’s the opposite of a SMART goal. You can find definitions of SMART goals all over the internet. SMART goals are commonly attributed to Peter Drucker—a renowned management consultant, Austrian immigrant, and author of 39 books. Drucker is commonly considered one of the most important thought leaders in business management. Using Drucker’s principles, back in 1981, George T. Doran published a paper in Management Review titled, There’s a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management’s goals and objectives. Although many variations exist, SMART goals are typically defined as:

S =  Specific

M = Measurable

A = Achievable or Assignable

R = Relevant or Realistic

T = Time-bound

Drucker and Doran were writing from a business management perspective, but smart goals are also intrinsic to psychotherapy. I won’t be going into the details here, but William Glasser and Robert Wubbolding, two renowned reality therapists, describe important variations of smart goals in psychotherapy. Put simply, the philosophy of Glasser and Wubbolding is simply common sense: “A goal should be within your control.” Put differently, if individuals or agencies identify goals that are dependent on other people’s behavior, then frustration and other problems will inevitably ensue.

Online resources for Zero Suicide are impressive. The breadth and volume of information will provide healthcare professionals with an excellent foundation for working with suicidal patients. For the most part, I have few objections to the quality and quantity of their online suicide prevention resources. Having these resources for healthcare professionals and the general public is important and fantastic. With a foundation of knowledge and informed action, it’s possible to prevent some, but not all suicides.

Despite its impressive array of information, Zero Suicide also has several shortcomings. For example, nowhere on their 66 item Zero Suicide Workforce Survey do they ask a question about having or holding empathy or compassion for suicidal patients. Empathy and compassion needs continual re-emphasis in suicide prevention. Why? Because patients, clients, and citizens who are suicidal, are also often experiencing depressive symptoms. All helpers and healthcare professionals should understand that empathic responding is the foundation of suicide intervention and prevention. Even further, one common depressive symptom is irritability. If irritability is present (along with depression and suicidal thoughts, when healthcare workers or others try to intervene with suicidal people—or persuade them to get help—the following pattern might emerge.

Gloria: I’m concerned about you and how you’re doing. “Have you been thinking about suicide?”

Sean: Yes. I think about it all the time.

Gloria: I want to tell you that there are some excellent resources available for people who are feeling suicidal.

Sean: I know that.

Gloria: Can I get you connected with a counselor here in town?

Sean: Not interested.

Gloria: But I want to be of some help to you, in some way.

Sean: I don’t want your pitiful help. I’m depressed and I’ve been thinking about suicide. I’ve been to counselors. Nothing helps.

Gloria: How about friends? Do you have some friends who might help and support you?

Sean: None of my friends care anymore.

Gloria: How about family?

Sean: My family has disowned me and I’ve disowned them.

Gloria: How about a church or community center? Lots of people get support at those places.

Sean: I can’t hardly get myself out of the house, so those are stupid ideas.

Gloria: Have you tried medications?

Sean: Medications just make me feel worse.

Gloria: How about exercise?

Sean: Seriously?

At this point in the conversation Gloria probably feels frustrated. She’s trying to help, but she can feel Sean resisting her efforts. Gloria is problem-solving, but Sean is feeling hopeless and isn’t able to engage in the problem-solving process. Sean has been through all these ideas in his head and in his depressive state of mind, he’s already rejected all these ideas as completely ineffective.

Next up, Gloria might up the ante by trying to get Sean to engage in logical thinking. She might say something like, “Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Having heard this logical ploy several times, Sean will be ready, “I’ve been living in misery for years. You might see the world as all happy and shit with your fancy shoes and Polly-Anna glasses on, but what I’m experiencing doesn’t feel temporary. I hate my life and I want to die.”

Even if Gloria is more saint-like than most, it will be difficult for her to sustain a helpful attitude toward Sean. She might try encouraging him to go to the hospital, but many suicidal people abhor the idea of hospitalization. Eventually, as Sean continues to insist that he’s suicidal, she might call for a county mental health professional to conduct an evaluation. If so, Sean may lie to the evaluator and say that he’s not imminently suicidal or the evaluator may decide Sean isn’t suicidal. Or, in the best case scenario, Sean may be hospitalized, but he also is likely to become very pissed off at Gloria, because he views her as usurping his personal rights and freedoms. In nearly every case, people like Sean are not likely to pause and thank Gloria for her suicide prevention efforts.

I could go on, but I’d probably just head further down this dark road. Instead, I’ll try to end with a few hopeful comments.

Suicide prevention is important, but it’s part of a strange dialectic. Sometimes, if we try hard to connect with someone and save them, we are fabulously successful. However, other times we try to connect and the person rejects us and suicide becomes even more likely. What’s the difference? I don’t know the perfect answer, but I’m pretty sure it involves collaboration and not coercion. I wish I had thought this up myself, but it’s something that suicidologists, researchers, and philosophers have known for millennia. On top of being fantastically unrealistic, zero suicide also smacks of coercion.

One of the best and forward thinking suicide intervention researchers is Marsha Linehan. You may have heard of her because she’s a University of Washington professor and developer of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. I’ll end with a rather amazing piece that she wrote. Take some time to read it and try to absorb the message. I think her story is all about being empathic and collaborative. Let me know if you think so too. Here are Marsha Linehan’s words, from the Foreword of a book titled, “Building a Therapeutic Alliance with the Suicidal Patient.”

I always tell my students a story about what it is like to work with suicidal individuals. In the story, I describe the suicidal person as trapped in a small, dark room with no windows and high walls (in my mind always with stark white walls reaching very, very high). The room is excruciatingly painful. The person searches for a door out to a life worth living but, alas, cannot find it. Scratching and clawing on the walls does no good. Screaming and banging brings no help. Falling to the floor and trying to shut down and feel nothing gives no relief. Praying to God and all the saints one knows brings no salvation. The only door out the individual can find is the door to death. The task of the therapist in this situation, as I always tell my clients also, is to somehow find a way to get into the room with the person, to see the person’s world from his or her point of view; to get inside the person, so to speak, and then together search again for that door to life that the therapist knows must be there.

Last Call for the Suicide Assessment and Intervention Psychotherapy.net Video Training

Hi All.

Below is the link for the $139 deal for the 7.5 hour Assessment and Intervention with Suicidal Clients training video with Psychotherapy.net.

Please share this information with other professionals who might want or need to sharpen their skills for working with clients who are or might become suicidal. This is a hard topic and I hope this resource can help clinicians feel more confident and competent in their suicide assessment and intervention skills.

https://academy.psychotherapy.net/p/suicide-promo?utm_source=ActiveCampaign&utm_medium=email&utm_content=LAST+CHANCE%3A+Suicide+Assessment+and+Intervention&utm_campaign=suicide+course+email%233

 

 

Assessment and Intervention with Suicidal Clients: A Brand New 7.5 Hour Video Training

Yellow Flowers

Suicide rates in the U.S. are at a 30 year high. Beginning in 2005, death by suicide in America began rising, and it hasn’t stopped, rising for 12 consecutive years.

Worldwide (and at the CDC) suicide rates are tracked using the number of deaths per 100,000 individuals. Although the raw numbers listed above are important (and startling), calculating deaths per 100,000 individuals provides a consistent per-capita measure that allows for systematic comparison of suicide rates across different populations, geographic regions, sexual identity, seasons of the year, and other important variables. For 2000, the CDC reported an unadjusted death by suicide rate of 10.4 persons per 100,000. For 2016, they reported 13.7 suicides per 100,000 Americans. This represents a 31.7% increase over 16 years.

As suicide rates have risen, federal, state, and local officials haven’t been idly standing by, wringing their hands, and wondering what to do. To the contrary, they’ve been actively engaged in suicide prevention. In 2001, the Surgeon General established the first National Suicide Prevention Strategy, revising it in 2012. All the while, there have been big pushes by federal and state governments, community organizations, schools, private businesses, and nonprofits to fund and promote suicide prevention programming. For the most part, the suicide specialists who run these programs are fantastic. They’re dedicated, knowledgeable, and passionate about saving lives. In addition to all the prevention programs available today, currently there are more evidence-based psychotherapies for suicidal people than ever before in the history of time.

But even in the face of these vigorous suicide prevention and intervention efforts, suicide rates continue to relentlessly rise . . . at an average rate of nearly 2% per year.

At this point it’s clear that prevention efforts may not have a direct influence on overall suicide rates. It’s tough to move the big needle that measures U.S. suicide rates. Some solutions may be more sociological and political. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should stop doing prevention. But, given the numbers, it’s important for us to try to find alternative methods for reducing and preventing suicide.

All this leads up to an announcement. Today, Psychotherapy.net published a three volume 7.5 hour video training titled, Assessment and Intervention with Suicidal Clients. This project was a collaboration between Rita, me, and Victor Yalom (along with his amazing staff at Psychotherapy.net). Although watching this video won’t automatically make suicide rates decrease, gaining awareness, knowledge, and skills on suicide assessment and intervention is one way counselors and psychotherapists can contribute to suicide prevention.

Psychotherapy.net is offering an introductory offer for the 7.5 hour video, with CEUs included. You can click here for details on the introductory offer and a sneak peek at the video.

I hope you find the video training helpful, and I look forward to hearing comments and feedback from you about how we can keep working together to help prevent suicide.

Aotearoa New Zealand Conference Keynote

NZ Tree and John

Kia ora.

Today is the future in New Zealand where I have the distinguished and humbling honor to present the closing keynote speech at the New Zealand Psychological Society’s Jubilee Conference.

Attached here are two things:

  1. The Brainstormed powerpoint slides from my workshop last Wednesday. These include a list of resources that New Zealand professionals and students have found useful in their suicide assessment, intervention, and prevention work. NZ 2018 Workshop Brainstorming
  2. The powerpoint slides for today’s keynote:NZ 2018 Suicide Keynote Final

New Zealand Jubilee Resources!

Kia ora.

I’m in New Zealand to present at their 50th Anniversary Jubilee Psychology Society Conference. . . which is way cool. Below are two resource links.

First, the Powerpoint Slides: NZ 2018 Suicide Workshop

Second, a link to my 2018 Journal of Health Service Psychology article on suicide assessment and intervention: https://www.nationalregister.org/pub/the-national-register-report-pub/journal-of-health-service-psychology-winter-2018/conversations-about-suicide-strategies-for-detecting-and-assessing-suicide-risk/

Have a fabulous week!

John

Bad News in Threes: Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and the CDC Suicide Report

Rainbow 2017

My mother always said, “Bad news comes in threes.” That concept, along with many of her other superstitions, never made much sense to me.

In truth, the bad news never stops. She knew that. I suppose that organizing bad news into groups of three offered hope that the suffering might soon end—at least until the next set of three bad things came round.

This week we’ve had bad news in waves, with three particular pieces distinctly linked to suicide. On Tuesday, there was fashion designer, Kate Spade. Yesterday, there was the release of a new CDC report on Suicide. And then this morning there was Anthony Bourdain.

When people like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain die by suicide, it’s hard not to be mystified. By all measures, both Spade and Bourdain were highly successful. They were passionate and fully alive. The dynamics that may have led them to choose death are opaque. We can’t see these dynamics. They’re not obvious.

Another thing that’s not easily seen or especially obvious is the fact that, along with Spade and Bourdain, 865 other Americans will die by suicide this week. Let that number sink in. Many of these other American suicides will be military veterans. These 865 Americans may choose suicide for reasons similar or different than Spade and Bourdain. We can’t know the deeply personal reasons why individuals choose suicide.

In honor of my mother’s desire to manage bad news in groups of three, I’ve got some other threes to share:

Three Things to Remember About Suicide

  1. As Spade and Bourdain’s deaths illustrate, suicide is unpredictable. Many respected suicidologists have thrown suicide risk factors and warning signs into the trash bin. Because we may not know if someone is suicidal, our best strategy is to treat everyone with kindness, compassion, and respect. This approach is all about connecting with others in ways that are meaningful and authentic. Then, from the context of your interpersonal connection, if you suspect or intuit that suicide is possible, ask directly in a way that normalizes suicidal thinking. You might ask something like, “It’s not unusual for people to think about suicide. Has that been true for you?”
  2. As the CDC report highlights, a person’s mental health may or may not be linked to suicide. In the CDC’s analysis, about 54% of suicides were not associated with a known mental disorder or pre-suicide warning signs. This implies that thinking about suicide or acting on suicidal impulses may be something that arises from challenging life stresses or circumstances. This information also means that you shouldn’t blame yourself for suicide deaths. We imagine suicide to be a terrible tragedy for the person who dies, but it’s also a palpable tragedy for many survivors. Of course, if you knew a person who died by suicide you deeply wish you could have known the right thing to say or do to save that person’s life. But the reality is, suicide is unpredictable, and so you and I shouldn’t beat ourselves up over not being able to effectively intervene. If you feel guilty after a suicide, talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Although it’s natural to blame yourself, there’s no point in being alone with your guilt, so please reach out for support for yourself.
  3. The deaths of Spade and Bourdain bring suicide to the front and center of our national consciousness. Although it’s good to shine a light on suicide, the deaths of Spade and Bourdain overshadow the 865 other Americans who have or will die by suicide this week. Many of these Americans will not have sought help. The irony of not seeking help is that there are several excellent talk-therapies that specifically target suicide risk. These therapies can be highly effective. Hotlines are a fine first step and medications might help, but the interpersonal connection that comes with evidence-based talk therapies, is profoundly important to positive outcomes. Effective help is available. Let’s bring the evidence-based talk therapies front and center in our national consciousness also.

Three Evidence-Based Therapies

Here are links to the three top evidence-based therapies for suicide.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT): https://www.amazon.com/DBT%C2%AE-Skills-Training-Manual-Second/dp/1462516998/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1528498109&sr=1-1&keywords=linehan+suicide

Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicide (CAMS): https://www.amazon.com/Managing-Suicidal-Risk-Second-Collaborative/dp/146252690X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1528498077&sr=1-1&keywords=jobes

Cognitive Therapy for Suicide: https://www.amazon.com/Cognitive-Therapy-Suicidal-Patients-Applications/dp/1433804077/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1528497986&sr=1-4&keywords=cognitive+therapy+suicide

Three More Resources

The CDC Report, although depressing, includes excellent information. You can read it here: https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/67/wr/mm6722a1.htm?s_cid=mm6722a1_w  You can also listen to or read an NPR interview with the report’s lead author, Deborah Stone, here: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/06/07/617897261/cdc-u-s-suicide-rates-have-climbed-dramatically

A while back I wrote an Op-Ed piece for the Missoulian newspaper. This Op-Ed emphasized core factors or dimensions that often drive suicidal behavior. Reading the article can give you a better understanding of suicide dynamics and could help you help others, but in no way will it make you capable of successfully preventing suicide amongst all of your family and friends. This article is available through the Missoulian: https://missoulian.com/news/opinion/columnists/suicide-prevention-ignore-the-math/article_ce3c7f1e-ab86-587e-9505-310cc00b3355.html

In January I had a suicide assessment and intervention article published in the Journal of Health Service Psychology. This article is a good resource for professionals who work with suicidal clients. It’s an easy read and might also be of interest to non-professionals seeking to understand more about how professionals work with suicidal people. https://www.nationalregister.org/pub/the-national-register-report-pub/journal-of-health-service-psychology-winter-2018/conversations-about-suicide-strategies-for-detecting-and-assessing-suicide-risk/

I wish you all a weekend of connection and healing.